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May 20 2020 2

Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi, India’s Only Female Prime Minister

Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi was an Indian leader who became prime minister of India between January 1966 to March 1977, and January 1980 till her assassination in October 1984. She was the first and only female prime minister of India. Born to former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, she took part in the Indian politics and was a central figure of the Indian National Congress. Nehru is to date the longest-serving prime minister of India, and her daughter Indira is second.

Indira was born into a Kashmiri Pandit family on November 19th, 1917, in Allahabad. She was named Indira Nehru. Her father, Jawaharlal, was among the leading figures during the struggle of the Indians from the British rule. She was raised as a single child after her brother died young. She lived a lonely life due to her father’s absence because of political assignments and her mother’s illness. Her mother, Kamala Nehru, died early due to Tuberculosis.

Indira was mostly homeschooled by tutors until 1934 when she joined St Cecilia’s and St Mary’s Christian convent schools in Allahabad. She then went to the International School of Geneva, the Ecole Nouvelle in Bex, and the Pupils’ Own School in Poona and Bombay. Indira and her mother moved into the Belur Math headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission, and Swami Ranganathananda became a guardian to Indira. She then studied as Vishwa Bharati in Santiniketan that became Visva-Bharati University in 1951. She, however, left her studies at the university to look after her mother in Europe who was ill. After her mother’s death, Indira went on to study history, political science, Latin, and economics at the University of Oxford, Badminton School, and later studied history at Somerville College. 

Between 1947 and 1964, Indira served as her father’s personal assistant and hostess when he was prime minister of India. She took an active role in politics and was elected President of the Indian National Congress in 1959. When her father died in 1964, she was appointed as a member of the upper house and became minister of information and broadcasting. She then became leader of the Congress Party in 1966 after Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death following a victory over her rival Morarji Desai. She went on to become India’s first female prime minister. Indira got married in 1942 to Feroze Gandhi, who was a fellow member of the party. The couple had two children, Sanjay and Rajiv, but were separated from each other for most of their marriage. Ferose, later in 1958, suffered a heart attack. He then died in 1960 at Willingdon Hospital, Delhi, after suffering another heart attack. 

Indira was a stubborn political leader who worked hard to centralize power. At some point, she was at war with Pakistan while she supported the independence movement. She won the independence war in East Pakistan, and this led to the creation of Bangladesh, and she established India as a regional powerhouse in South Asia. When people were calling for a revolution, Indira initiated a state of emergency between 1975 and 1977. In this period, the press was controlled, and basic civil liberties were suspended. This led to increased atrocities for the duration of the emergency. When elections were held, Indira returned to power, and she initiated military action in the Golden Temple, called Operation Blue Star. She was assassinated by her two bodyguards and Sikh nationalists,  Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, on October 31st of 1984.

Among the achievements Gandhi is remembered for include her effective promotion of Indian foreign policy measures and the Green Revolution, where she transformed India into a self-sufficient country in food grains.

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